Legislators to Vote on Cyber Bullying Law This Week

A bill criminalizing cyber bullying is being considered by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators. They're expected to reach a decision before the close of the week.

Nearly one in five children are victims of cyber bullying, and studies have suggested that on sites like Facebook, bullies outnumber their victims four-to-one. It’s a serious problem, and in an increasingly digital society, the stakes climb higher every day. Yet educators and parents often feel powerless, unable to identify cyber bullies and having little recourse even when they do. Luckily, there may be some good news for children on the horizon, because legislators in New York State have introduced a bill that would make cyber bullying a crime.

Last Tuesday, lawmakers in Monroe County passed a bill defining cyber bullying as a crime punishable with fines totaling $1,000 and up to a year of jail time. This week, the bill’s been elevated to the state level where Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York state legislators will determine whether or not the law should apply statewide. They’re expected to reach a decision before the close of the week.

The amended state bill doesn’t carry with it the fines and penalties that were passed on the county level, but it will define cyber bullying as a crime and therefore make it subject to existing laws. New York State Senator Joe Robach told YNN Rochester, “While we didn’t increase any penalties, there are already laws in place that if you hurt anybody or cause anybody harm you could be civilly and sometimes criminally liable so we really want to up the awareness. We don’t want any tragedies with our young people or older people over cyber bullying or harassment.”

The law goes a step further, giving educators tools to determine what to do with kids who are bullying others online, and helping them prevent threats before they occur. Under the law, schools would be legally obligated to develop a formal protocol for dealing with cyber bullies and online harassment. They’d also be required to designate a school official to manage investigations and file legal reports. Educators would be responsible for developing and implementing curriculums to address online bullying and to teach appropriate behaviors and responses to students.

Cyber bullying is by no means a new issue, but it’s one that’s gained a brighter spotlight in New York following the death of Amanda Cummings in January. The 15-year-old from Staten Island committed suicide by jumping in front of a public bus — an act her family members contest was the direct result of cyber bullying. At the time, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the New York Times, “I think the notion that the criminal justice system is going to prevent any other child from being the subject of bullying is unrealistic.”

It’s a sentiment many legislators hope to prove wrong by the end of this week. If they do, it won’t just be good news for children in New York — it could influence law makers in other states and possibly even lead to new initiatives on the national level. In the ongoing fight to protect children from cyber bullying, it’s a step in the right direction.

Published June 21, 2012